So this Saturday Cambridge head to the home of the railways to take on Darlington Mowden Park.
Darlington is in the Tees Valey. King James visited in 1603 on his way South to London and described it as "a mucky, mucky town and mair shame on its people." But by the 19th century a handful of Quaker families had led a civic revivial, bequesthing the town some fine Georgian architecture. Perhaps the most famous of these was the Pease family. They were rich wool merchants who diverified into banking - they were also prominent in the Peace Society and Anti-Slavery Society.
When there was a plan for a canal to move coal from the Durham hills to the wharves at Stockton, they instead suggested a railway and hired George Stephenson to build it. The railway opened on Spetember 25th 1825, the train had space for three hundred passengers, but six hundred crowded aboard, thus we can see overcrowding has been endemic on our railway from the very first journey.
Alhough they did carry passengers, coal generated the income. There were insufficient steam engines and they were unreliable, so most trips were still horse drawn. The trains were equipped with a so called dandy cart in which the horse could rest and eat hay as the full waggons rolled down hill to the Tees. The horse then pulled the empty waggons back up to the mines.
Although overbudget, the railway made significant profit. It soon outgrew the limited quay at Stockton and built the larger docks at Middlesborough. It was soon providing half he coal burned in London. It linked up with North Eastern Railway, with Darlington still a stop on the East Coast Main Line. The original Stockton and Darlington track still in use as the Tees Valley line. Locomotion No. 1, the engine that pulled the first passenger train, is on display in the Head of Steam museum at the station.
The Pease family used the wealth from the railway to build Mowdem Hall on the outskirts of the town. They sold the house in the 1930s when it became a school and more recently Government offices. In the 1960s a housing esate was built in its grounds. In 1970 the Darlington Grammar School Old Boys culb was looking for a new home and were able to buy land in Mowdem and as like many other side, they had stoped being just an Old Boys side changed their name to Darlington Mowdem Park. Recently they were offered the chance of buying 25,000 seater Darlington Arena from the bankrupt Darlington FC, so moved again. I am told the arena has a wide pitch with a firm surface - which encourages running and passing play to stretch the opposition. There is however a swirling wind that can make kicking dificult.
This is our first encounter in the leagues and as far as I know we have not met in the cup.
Darlington Mowden Park had three successive championships in 1999, 2000 and 2001 to reach National 2 North for the first time - but did not survive. It was not until 2012 they regained level four. In 2014 they were runners up and hosted Ampthill in the play-off. The match went to extra time, before DMP prevailed. In the last two seasons they have finished 9th and 7th.
From what I can gather the DMP side have pace a plenty in the backs and a capable if not steam-roller pack. They have suffered a lot of player turnover, with some retiring, many moving up the pyramid and a few off to Coventry. Add in a few players carrying knocks and the first game saw only five players who had played last season - but I am told players are coming back rom injury and last weeks squad looked more familiar to the DMP faithful. They have kept last season's coaching team, Danny Brown and John Newton, who both also played for the club - so there some contiuity. This season they have lost to at Hull Ionians, beaten neighbours Blaydon by a single point and won convincingly away at Ampthill.
We can expect a warm welcome from ex-Blood and Sand prop James Penman - though I doubt he will give his old club any favours once the whistle goes for the start of play.